Tablet PC's bring a new level of portability


Published: Monday, September 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, September 9, 2003 at 11:20 a.m.

If you're a compulsive note taker, or have a need for serious portable computing, Tablet PC's are a relatively new option for you to consider. More widely introduced less than a year ago, the Tablet PC has caught on with some groups, but the huge market predicted by Bill Gates and some others has yet to materialize. Understanding Tablet PC's better can help determine whether one may be right for you.

One of the biggest problems with Tablet PC's is actually finding them to try out. After many months, I recently received a demo unit from ViewSonic (www.viewsonic.com) in the form of their V1100 model. ViewSonic also makes the ViewPad 1000, which uses Windows XP Professional, as opposed to the XP Tablet PC Edition found on most Tablet PC's.

Tablet PC's usually come in two different forms. The V1100 features a 10.4" TFT screen that sits in your arm much like a "slate tablet". Much like many Pocket PC's, you can write on the screen with a special stylus and it will save your writing in either written form (known as Windows "Ink"), or convert the written notes to standard text the built-in text recognition program. As might be expected, recognition works best with printed letters rather than cursive words, and like many similar programs, recognition can be expected to improve over time and with increased usage.

A second "convertible" form Tablet PC includes a foldable keyboard that is built into the unit. When expanded, the convertible resembles a conventional laptop. Examples of convertible Tablet PC's include the Acer TM C104Tci (www.acer.com), Compaq TC10000 (www.compaq.com), and the Toshiba Portege 3500 series (www.toshiba.com). Microsoft maintains a complete showcase of Tablet PC information at www.microsoft.com. Type in "Tablet PC" in the search box and click the link for Windows XP Tablet PC Edition Home.

Again like many Pocket PC's and Palm devices, the V1100 includes a pop-up visual keyboard where letters can be tapped in via a screen to compose letters or other documents. The larger screen size means there will usually be fewer errors along the way. For those wanting the use of a conventional keyboard, a USB keyboard and mouse are available that neatly plug into an optional docking station with a 24x CD-ROM drive that holds the Tablet PC as vertical monitor when it's not being used portably. The dock also serves as a charging station for the Tablet PC.

Again emphasizing portability, the V1100 includes built-in 802.11b "Wi-Fi" wireless networking, as well as conventional ethernet ports built into both the Tablet PC and the dock. The V1100 also includes a conventional modem, audio inputs and outputs, two onboard USB ports and a "mini" FireWire port.

As the Tablet PC is in most ways a notebook computer running Windows XP, you can expect to run standard Office and Web applications with relative ease.

However, the Tablet PC will not be the best choice in those cases where a portable PC user wants maximum computing power, large graphics displays, or lots of memory use or hard drive storage space. All of these "power" features can be best provided via a conventional laptop. Most Tablet PC's offer either Pentium III or Intel's new mobile Centrino processor to save on power usage and maximize battery life. You can also expect to pay a premium price for a Tablet PC, ranging from $1500 to over $3000 for the most decked out models. But for some, the portability may be well worth it.

Tom Meek is a computer and media consultant working with businesses and individuals on computer and Web issues. Reach Tom at webgator@bellsouth.net or via www.tvccs.com, where a complete Cyberville column archive and additional computing resources are maintained.

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